Apropos of nothing, the song “What Do You Do with A Drunken Sailor” keeps popping into my head. Well, it’s not completely from nowhere—my orchestra will be performing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto #2 in a few weeks, and my part for the first movement has “Drunken Sailor” notated above one set of rests. If you listen closely, you can hear a hint of the tune in the music.
The question I’m really asking isn’t about drunken sailors, though. It’s about sick cats. What do you do with a sick cat? You put him down. Is that harsh? Yes, it is, but these days, I see no way around such really difficult situations but to approach them harshly, or maybe just frankly. You do what must be done even if you’d rather pass the cup to someone else.
My family has endured a series of very unfortunate events as of late, and just when I thought I had reached my load-bearing limit, I woke up Saturday morning to a sick cat.
Tiger was our beloved orange tabby who we have had in our house for 13 years. He once looked like this:
When the girls were younger, around 9 and 12, we went to a Pets Smart on a Saturday because the local humane society adopts out cats and kittens there on weekends. We walked past a row of cages where the kitties were held, and as we approached one, a tiny orange paw reached out and tapped my shoulder. We asked to hold the little tabby kitten, and when I picked him up, he instantly nuzzled under my chin. We’ll take this one! The bottoms of his feet had been hurt, and he was underweight for his presumed age, but he was soon thriving and made himself at home.
We named him Tiger, and he quickly found our old gray cat, Smoky, and sat on him. Tiger has inspired other people to get orange tabbies because he was the sweetest cat ever. He would cry and cry until you picked him up, and then he would wrap his front legs around your neck and hug you like he meant it. Over the last 13 years, you could count on Tiger to welcome you home after a great success or a terrible blow with the same level of delight—if no one in the house would applaud you or comfort you, that cat would step in. He was affectionate and playful and tolerant of big, sloppy dogs who slobbered on his neck and tried to fit his whole head in their mouths. Actually, only one dog ever did that to Tiger.
I loved Tiger more than any other cat I have ever known, and my girls would say the same, I think, and we liked to think of him as immortal. But a year or two ago, Tiger developed a thyroid problem. I put him on a diet of medicated food from the vet, and he improved, but in recent weeks, he began eating less and losing weight, and I could tell he was losing his sight.
Then on Saturday morning when I woke up, I couldn’t find him. I’ve been through this before and knew it as a bad sign. After some searching, I found him hiding in a corner of the basement, and I called the vet. The woman confirmed Tiger was nearly blind at that point—she dropped cotton balls in front of him, and he didn’t track. His temperature was dropping, and his heartbeat was slowing, and she said he was shutting down. We could try medicine and blood tests, but there didn’t seem to be much hope.
I went home with an empty crate, and I have not cried so hard in years.
I wasn’t just crying for the cat, of course. As I mentioned, we’ve had a string of tear-worthy events. It’s a puzzle how much a person can stand. I told the vet, through seriously blubbery sobs, that I just could not take one more thing, but I did take it, and I’m here to tell you about it. You just take it, and you figure out a way to stand up tall and hold out your arms for more. I’m hoping there isn’t any more, but that’s not how it works, is it?
Tiger was the best cat ever, and I miss him. I swear I have heard him meowing through the house the way he would when he realized everyone had gone upstairs for the night, but then I shake it off and remind myself that’s impossible. Frankly, it just is.